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The Women’s World Cup (Spoken and Unspoken Messages)

The Women’s World Cup has been a roller coaster ride from the beginning.  Although I support the US Women’s National Team, I am much more interested in the women’s game growing and being accepted in its own right worldwide.  Most of the results have been in line with expectation.  However the results are not all that matters.  Even though there are more games to be played, this World Cup is sending messages.  Some of them need to be heard and emulated, others need to be learned from then possibly forgotten.  Regardless, I thought it was worth the time to recap some of the biggest beats so far.

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Lone voices aren’t loud – The absence of one of the best players in the world has largely gone unnoticed.  Norway has performed relatively well without their Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg.  Her decision to stay out of the Norwegian National Team was a mild source of intrigue but in the end has been overtaken by other story lines.  There is just too much happening in a World Cup that the absence of one person is going to invoke great change.  If the World Cup is the best platform for female athletes to make a statement (and I believe that it is), then it requires a much more evident and pervasive stance.  Perhaps all of the teams deciding, they are not going to play for the first minute of each game because they want to make a statement about inequality.  Instead of kicking of an internationally televised game exactly when the whistle blows, a minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds is taken for all of the players to stand together against a common foe of inequality.

Objectively Subjective – Although it has people behind it, one of the loudest voices of the tournament has no voice at all.  VAR has all but taken over a tournament that is supposed to be about human beings playing and interpreting the beautiful game.  Unfortunately in an effort to “get it right”, it’s all gone wrong.  The games have largely been robbed of the emotion of the moment.  Referees without VAR get things wrong (and obviously with VAR things still go wrong).  Based on what I’ve seen from this World Cup, I’m much less worried about the getting the call “right” as I am the referee doing her/his best to endeavor to make the “right” call.  Human error is part of the process but two minute discussions over earphones about a possible infraction have not improved the game, they’ve cheapened it.  This is largely the reason that I’ve not watched a NFL game in four years.  The game has been taken away from the humans, so they defer, rather than decide.

Entitlement Doesn’t Lead to Titles – As a fan of the USWNT, it pained me to watch the match against Spain.  In an almost Rocky IV type moment, I felt myself almost wanting for Spain to win.  This was not me renouncing my citizenship.  It was the simple fact that I saw more instances of pride producing behavior from the Spanish team.  As a fan, pride is one of the emotions that we rely upon to continue our association with a team.  When we are no longer proud to support our team, there is little point in being a fan.  The Spanish team had a plan and they executed it well.  The US didn’t and didn’t.  At a variety of moments, it seemed as though the US were waiting for Spain to give up.  Rapinoe and Morgan seemed to want the referee to be the one to help them past the defenders.  Expectations of calls for any contact were fully on display.  Although some of Spain’s tackles were reckless, the general feeling that I got was that they were actually trying to win the game through skill and hard work rather than reputation.  My hope is that this was a blip on the radar screen but I am fearful that we are more show than GO!

One last word before she leaves – In one of the most shareable moments of the World Cup, Marta exited the tournament by laying down the gauntlet to the future of the sport.  Although the message was intended toward young Brazilian girls, it is a strong message for anyone.  The heroines or heroes that we esteem so heavily will not always be there for us to adore.  Someone, maybe you, needs to pick up where they left off or possibly challenge for their spot.  It is not going to be easy.  As Marta put it, you need to cry before you can smile.  The picture needs to be painted over and over again that the exceptional do not get there by chance or in born talent.  There is work that no one sees and most people fear but if you want to get to the highest levels, you need to embrace.

So even though it is not over, there is so much to take from the World Cup so far.  It is one of the reasons why I love soccer so much.  The result is only part of the story.  Stats and scores can only tell you so much.  The experience of the 90 (+7 COME ON!  VAR!) minutes is necessary to tell a story about the people that are trying to get that result.  Their stories run parallel to our stories and allow us to live more fervently because it resonates around the world!

Blogpost, self-reliance

The World Cup and Learning How to Love Yourself

Best of friends ready to travel together.

In 1998 I spent almost a month in Europe with my best friend, Schaef, attending the World Cup.  When you think of life experiences, it really doesn’t get much better than that.  Spending a month engrossed in the thing that you love the most with one of the people that you love the most.  It truly was an amazing trip but when it was over he and I didn’t speak for almost two months.  The experience of that trip has helped me in a variety of ways, one of which I’ll share here.

The trip was planned extremely well by my friend.  He was the planner and I played the role of translator because I spoke both Spanish and French.  We flew into London and saw the sites there briefly.  Our main focus was the games.  So site seeing was kind of a fast paced game.  We tried to see as much as possible in the smallest amount of time possible.  Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. were all done in a day and at a quick clip.

Then we took trains down to Barcelona where we spent a few days touring and watching games in the afternoon.  Again, the Olympic Village, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s buildings and all were seen but not studied as we had to block out times for the matches which were almost social events along Las Ramblas.  Unfortunately Schaef lost his passport on our second to last day there.  For that story, CLICK HERE.

The LouvreOur next stop was Paris.  There was of course the visit to the US Embassy in Paris to get a new passport which took longer than we would have liked.  After getting it we had to rush to pick up our tickets to the five games that we were going to attend.  Our first match was Germany vs USA.  Despite both being American we were following Germany through the group stage.  The most memorable thing from following Germany for me was the warm-up.  Watching Jurgen Klinsmann get crossed balls for him to side volley from head height was amazing.  He was obviously a world class player honing his craft and I loved seeing it up close.  In addition to that match, we saw the Louvre in less than 2 hours.  Art lovers we are not!  Next was Germany vs Yugoslavia which was in Lens, a much smaller venue and not much around.

We fit in a quick trip to Munich Germany to experience Schaef’s heritage.  This was the first time that I felt like we needed some space.  I didn’t speak German but I felt there was an expectation that I was still on translation duty.  I learned quickly how to say “Zwei biere, zwei pretz” (two beers and two pretzels) which was about all we needed to survive.   That feeling of unnecessary expectation faded quickly because we were back on the road to Montpelier to see our final group stage match, Germany vs Iran, which ended with Germany winning the Group.  Montpelier was also the first place that we were able to kick a soccer ball around.  We met a girl from Chicago who got her brother to lend us a ball.  Her father’s only directions were “don’t pop it”.  Now I’ve never popped a soccer ball before in my life.  But sure enough, the very last kick of the ball took a weird bounce hit this tree with spikes on it and POP!  We felt so bad for the kid, I think we gave him around $140 in Francs to replace it.  At this point, the togetherness was getting difficult.  I even started smoking cigars on a daily basis just to get away for a bit.

Our final day of matches was filled with drama both on and off the field.  We went to the knockout stage match in Lens between France and Paraguay which Les Bleus won in overtime.  This was inconvenient for us because we had another match to attend in Paris that night and OT almost made us late.  On top of that we had to navigate around riot police due to an altercation that happened during the match outside the stadium.  Despite the difficult circumstances we got onto a fully packed train back to Paris.  Denmark beat Nigeria handily that night.

We traveled back to England in order to catch our flight home.  At this point, we have not had one argument or negative word said but we don’t speak much on the flight.  The next day we part ways and don’t talk for about two months.  Eventually we pick right back up in a good spot but we obviously needed some time apart.

This experience taught me so many things about relationships but the two main ones were: most upsets come from a mismatch of expectations and no matter how much you love someone, space is necessary at times.  These both came into play in the best possible circumstances.

On a daily basis, we are not dealing with the best possible circumstances but we are cultivating our most important relationship.  Each and every day we are in the closest possible contact with our key associate: the self.  Although it may seem odd to apply the same concepts to an internal relation as an external but they can be used to good effect.

First the mismatch of expectations with who you think that you are or should be is a common cause of upset.  We have a narrative about who we are inside of our head.  Some of it is conscious and other parts unconscious but when our external environment fails to meet our expectations of who we are, it creates issues.  Those issues can manifest in a variety of ways but the underlying problem is that our life does not match our expectations.  One way to combat this is actually create a definitive description of who you expect yourself to be on a daily basis.  Not the “best case scenario” or “ideal self” but rather standard operating procedure or bare minimums description.  This way you are setting yourself up for success.  Exceeding these expectations will be a gold star to shoot for but at least you have a definition of who you will accept going out into the world each day.

The second is slightly more complicated because getting distance from yourself can seem difficult.  I’m obviously not talking about physical distance but rather psychological distance.  The daily opportunity that we have for this space is sleep.  I truly believe that people who do not sleep well have a more complicated internal life because they are caught up too directly in their own story.  The inability to take a break from being puts additional stress onto the relationship with the self.  Other forms of psychological space from the self are meditation and exercise.  These can both be extremely effective provided that they can be done without intense focus on “results”.  Using these tools to take a mental vacation will have great effects provided that the vacation is not turned into a business trip.

So recognize that you’re on a lifelong trip, living out of a purse sized “bag”, with the same person that you cannot get rid of.  It would make sense for you to make them a friend, possibly your best friend.  In order to make it work though, you’re going to need to set expectations and give each other space.  Otherwise you could end up hating the person inside your head and that seems like a bad way to spend this great trip that you’re on.

Travel well!

Pete